By Yoni Binus
Dr. Ken Ginsburg, adolescent psychologist and expert on teaching resilience, who worked with us two years ago, taught us that we were responsible for what students will need at the age of 18, but equally responsible for instilling in them what they will need at 30. Dr. Ginsburg’s visit was the very beginning of a journey at Heilicher that has taken our staff to the threshold of a new era of pedagogy and learning culture at the school. Over the course of this week, the staff has engaged deeply in graduate-level courses on STEAM methodology, which focuses on inquiry-based learning, intellectual risk taking, and building resilience in our students (i.e., what they will need when they are 30.) What we are learning is that a key ingredient to the success of this methodology is failure.
We all probably know plenty of platitudes that tell us that dealing with failure is a key to success. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. Success consists of getting up just one more time than you fall down. And so on. But what our STEAM training is revealing is that adopting this attitude, and especially teaching this habit of mind, is not a simple task. It requires a tremendous amount of self-reflection, self-discipline, and, for many, genuine change of mindset. Focusing on inquiry, does not mean doing away with traditional skills and core content; what it means is infusing all lessons and all schoolwork with language and exercises that makes the child a learner, rather than making the teacher the ‘holder of all answers.'
Last Sunday, I had my first meeting with a group of younger community members (I don’t actually know their ages, but the group consists of unpartnered individuals, engaged couples, and individuals with young children) who are serving as a sort of focus group and planning group for me and for the school. One of them brought up a very good point about how important customer care and loyalty are. I completely agree and I think our admissions department and our whole whole staff community focus deeply on family connection and meeting students and families where they are.
So, I’ve been thinking about the concept of ‘customer connection’ and how it might dovetail with this new, high-level pedagogy of inquiry-based learning. Thinking deeply, taking risks, and experiencing failure is really hard work--and it will require reinforcement both at school and at home. We are going to have to take parents along for the ride as we integrate this new methodology and as we enrich our mindsets about the capacity for people to grow and learn. If we are not aligned in this effort, we risk that parents and teachers will be speaking different languages about how a child is progressing, what a grade means, and what our benchmarks are for success.
I have used the term ‘mindset’ at least twice over the course of this message. That is because the book we read as a staff this summer is called Mindset by Dr. Carol Dweck. In her work, Dr. Dweck discusses the concept of ‘fixed’ mindset versus ‘growth’ mindset. The former referring to an attitude that people’s talents and intelligence are fixed things, rather than qualities that can grow through practice and hard work. As a starting point, I’d like to recommend this book for parents, grandparents, caretakers, and others, as we begin the dialogue about inquiry-based learning and using challenge and failure as platforms for success.
Personally, I have explored what it means to really try something and fail for me, as an adult, right now in my life. Honestly, it’s a pretty scary thing--not as easy to do as to say. I suggest you give it a try once over the course of the next week. Take a risk, try something new, let yourself fail. If you want, send me a message after and we can chat about it. If we can all get ourselves in the shoes of the students as they head back into school this week, we may just be able to elevate the level of education and inquiry together.
So, please. Fail. Give it a try.